HILLSILAGE NO HASSLE
Making silage on the hill is no different to in the lowlands; attention to detail remains the key.Jeremy Hunt reports
A STRICT re-seeding policy and making careful use of grazing ewes in early spring are key elements to successful silage making on a Cumbria hill farm, which runs 820 breeding sheep and a dairy herd of 130 cows plus 100 followers.
Father and son team of David and Fred Hayllar farm 242ha (600 acres) at Helbeck Grange, Brough, near Kirkby Stephen. Although there is 24ha (60 acres) of grazing at about 135m (450ft), the rest of the farm runs from 150m (500ft) at the steading to fell grazing at 400m (1300ft).
All the land carries LFA status and about 160ha (400 acres) is severely disadvantaged. Annual rainfall approaches 1250mm (50in) and long winters mean cows can be inside for seven months. Despite these conditions, David Hayllar considers them no handicap to making high quality silage.
"We cant start cutting grass here in mid-May. On our farm the grass is not ready to cut until early June, so in some ways it is easier to make good silage, if everything else is right."
The Hayllar family, who were regional finalists in the British Grassland Societys national silage competition in 1992, re-seed 10ha (25 acres) a year. About 16ha (40 acres) of winter wheat and winter barley are grown each year for home use and it is on 10ha (25 acres) of the barley land that new ley cultivations begin after harvest in August.
"Good establishment is important, so we do not cut corners on cultivations. New leys are always drilled," says David Hayllar.
Mr Hayllar prefers a tetra-ploid mix for his 5-7 year leys, and the entire silage crop – all is made into clamp silage and about 71ha (175 acres) is allocated for first cut – is taken from re-seeded land.
Silage ground receives an initial 120kg/ha (1cwt/acre) of phosphate in February, followed by two applications giving 170 units/ ha of nitrogen (70 units/acre) in early March and again in mid-April, providing a total of 345 units/ha (140/acre). Second cut receives a further 200 units/ha (80/ha) plus 120kg/ha (1cwt/acre) of potash and the third cut, taken in September-October, has another 1200-1500 units/ha of N (50-60/ac).
But the final fertiliser application before first cut follows a period of grazing considered to be critical to the development of the grass crop.
Late March lambing ewes – the farm carries 500 Mule ewes and 200 Swaledales – are turned on to the silage ground for two to three weeks.
"A lot depends on the season, but we stock them at a level we gauge through experience. We do not want the ewes to graze too hard. When we take them out there is still a few inches of growth but the grass height is very level and a sward treated in this way seems to bulk up really well," says Fred Hayllar.
The mower conditioner, with a 2.4m (8ft) cut, moved in to cut last years first crop on June 6. Baffles have been removed to achieve the wider swath, which, in risky weather, can be rowed up and collected almost immediately by the Kverneland-Taarup forage harvester.
"We do not mind if there are a few seed heads appearing before we decide to cut, and if the weather is right we may leave grass down for 24 hours," says David Hayllar. Additives are used when necessary, as a failsafe. "They give us some insurance if we feel we need it."
All silage making is undertaken with farm staff, the aim is to achieve about 16ha a day (40 acres a day). The three cuts should produce about 2000t.
Last years first-cut analysis was DM 22%, D-value 73, ME 11.6 MJ/kgDM, CP 19.1 and pH4.
Making high dry matter silage is not a priority, but a drier sample is preferred to feed to ewes housed from early January. A 40% DM analysis, achieved with second cut last year, has been ideal for sheep feeding. This winters dairy cow diets, based on rolled barley, chopped fodder beet and brewers grains, have been combined with a 50:50 mix of the drier and wetter silage samples.
Housed Mule ewes are split according to scanning. Triplet and twin bearing ewes are fed silage, with sugar beet pulp introduced eight weeks before lambing. Ewes carrying singles are fed only silage until two weeks before lambing when the entire flock is switched to a home-mix made of whole barley, fishmeal and sugar beet pulp.
"The weather before you cut silage is more important than the weather on the day you start mowing. It is the sunny days before the mowing date that make the all-important sugars," says Fred Hayllar.
High DM silage is viewed with caution. "Wilting for 24 hours is not a priority here. If we have silage that is too dry it can soon heat up and become unpalatable when we add rolled barley as part of the diet-mix. Having said that, we had grass last year that was picked-up immediately and still came out as a 40% dry matter sample."n
David Hayllar reckons a hill location is no handicap to making top quality silage. All Mr Hayllars 242ha (600 acres)carries LFA status.
HAYLLAR SILAGE 1996
• DM – 22%
• D-value – 73
• ME – 11.6MJ/kgDM
• CP – 19.1%
• pH – 4
Ewes tuck into silage at David and Fred Hayllars Helbeck Grange.